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The Food Supply-Population Growth Quandary
Theodore W. Schultz
The steeply rising population curves raise anxious doubts about the supply of food, doubts that loom large over the low income countries. A larger share of the resources of these countries is required to produce food than in the high income countries. This fact has obvious implications for the rest of the economy, including the availability of resources for schools and health facilities. The rapid growth in population implies that even more scarce resources may have to be allocated to the production of food. It also implies that household savings which are spent on children are not available to increase the stock of physical capital. In view of the seriousness of the scarcity of resources in low income countries, the critical unsettled question must be faced: Is the food-producing sector of these low income countries capable of increasing the supply of food enough even to keep up with the demand for food arising from the rapid growth in population?
Using an economic approach, I shall examine mainly the interacting supply and demand developments of food. As per capita income rises, the rate of increase in demand is even higher than the rate of population growth because the income elasticity of the demand for food is relatively high in poor countries. On the supply side, I shall extend the analysis to include the contributions of scientific and technical research to agricultural production. This research will be considered in terms of cost and returns and thus treated as an investment activity. Because the food-producing sector can and should contribute to economic growth, this analysis will not exclude the possibility of going beyond merely staying on a par with hunger (1, Preface).
There are difficulties aplenty whatever the approach. There are the practical short view and the troublesome long view. In the minds of many who are concerned about the population problem, the approach of economics fails to face up to the really long-run implications of population growth. In response to this concern, I shall consider a bit later the limitations of long-range
W Srhult7 is Professor of Ernnnmics. Universitv of Chicago. live use of agricultural resources requires great efforts in public education, reform of land tenure systems, road-building, dam-building, and often price adjustments. Dealing with the problems of environmental quality, particularly in the cities, places supreme tests on municipal as well as higherid waste and sewage problems are severe, housing conditions very bad, and public health levels low. Densely populated urban slums and poverty-stricken rural villages alike are characterized by physical environments of generally poor quality, although specific conditions vary from one situation to another. In the large cities of less developed countries air pollution and congestion to be incomplete.